Wednesday, 30 November 2011


Workers from across Somerset converged on Taunton today to join a 2,000 strong protest against the Coalition Governments plans to devastate their pensions and trash public services. 
SDC Unison delegation in Taunton

A TUC 'Day of Action' had been called Nationwide with the turnout in Somerset   described as a "Fantastic response" by Unison Regional Organiser Helen Eccles

The march ,which started at the old Cattle Market , wended it's way through crowds of applauding shoppers in Tauntons town centre many of whom joined in as the demonstration approached them.

Glen Burrows from Bridgwater Trades Council and the RMT , addressed the marchers as they gathered at the start of their protest saying "This is not just a campaign to defend oublic sector pensions. It is a campaign for all pensions: state, private and public sector. It is saying to the Government loud and clear ! We will not pay for a crisis caused by bankers' greed and speculation. Hands off our pensions! Hands off our NHS! Hands off our schools! Hands off our Welfare State!"
Brian Smedley & Glen Burrows Bridgwater Trades Council

Bridgwater Labour Party members and Councillors joined the march today and supported the action by not crossing picket lines. Group Leader Cllr Mick Lerry carried the National Union of Teachers banner on the march whilst Group Secretary Cllr Brian Smedley ,walked alongside Sedgemoor Unison strikers. 

District Party Chair Cllr Kathy Pearce said " Public sector workers are being squeezed all ways - higher contributions to pensions and later retirement age.  In the meantime those of us working in public services are expected to bear the brunt of dealing with the consequences of the co-alition government's cuts to public spending.  The strength of today's protest and public support is testament to the strength of feeling that enough is enough. "
Labour Leader Mick Lerry with the N.U.T

At the culmination of the march -County Hall- speaker after speaker from many different Unions stressed the message of the day 

"The Unions want proper negotiations. The Government is storing up a crisis for the next generationof pensioners unless we win pensions justice for all now"

"Never be ashamed to stand up and fight for what is fair and just"

"People are here because they're angry. 700,000 job cuts in public services and pay cuts of 16% pay cut are making  moderates into militants!"
Speakers at County hall

"Today is about ordinary workers. in the NHS you're lucky if you leave with £4,000 pension - hardly gold plated!"

"It's not just pensions we;re fighting for it;s about the quality of life for ordinary workers, for a decent education system and for properly funded public services"

Unison said that 200 schools across Somerset were closed due to the strike action and even Tory Education secretary Michael Gove had to admit that 76% of state funded schools across the country were affected.

Schools, hospitals, courts, passport offices and ports were among the services disrupted.

The TUC said more women than ever before had taken part in the strike.

Saturday, 12 November 2011


West Quay before the Flood defences were erected in 1982
A week after the carnival night collapse of the river wall flood defences along Bridgwater's West Quay, the townpeople are still waiting for the wall to fall into the river. Sedgemoor District Council says that no decision will be made on the security or otherwise of the riverside road and houses until the wall actually falls in.

Andy Mckay, the chief Engineer on site, says "We know the wall is moving and will inevitably topple into the river but at the moment we're glad it's still standing so that it acts as a waterbreak while we pump concrete into the foundations of the Quayside. It it wasn't there there would be more rapid tidal erosion under the road further undemrining the security of the buildings. We will make a decision on what to do next when it finally goes over. "
West Quay 10 minutes after the flood  of Nov 4 2011

Westover ward councillor Brian Smedley & Kathy Pearce, held an emergency meeting for the West Quay  traders  with Sedgemoor District Council this week and were told they wouldn't be allowed to return to their premises until the all clear was given for the whole of West Quay.  Cllr Smedley said "The waiting is excruciating for the traders whose busiest season is approaching. If  they can be told it's safe to go back they can start trading again. If not , and they can be given a timescale, then they can judge if to claim on insurance or seek re-location to other premises which Sedgemoor Estates Valuer Tim Mander has been deployed to help them with. Already the furniture store has been relocated to Highbridge,  but other premises-such as the Green Olive restaurant, are finding it harder to locate adequate premises. "

Dr Peter Cattermole from the Blake museum has supplied Sedgemoor with maps of the  archeaology of the area to help them identify the strong and weak points plus the history of the sewers , the collapse of which could have been the cause of the major water surge last friday. Dr Cattermole says "The castle wall is some 4 metres thick  and runs about 2m-3m behind the fronts of the buildings to at least ground level, sometimes higher (as in The Fountain). The rear of the properties is unlikely to fail given the substantial butressing effect of the wall.  However, the fronts may behave independently of the rears. A careful check for cracks is required. There are substantial masonry structures to considerable depth to the east of the sewer and in front of the present quay wall (which probably dates from ca. 1725). There are also significant lateral features which probably increase the stability of the underlying quay structure. Nearer the Town Bridge, there is a "mass of solid Lias masonry 4m wide at 2m depth", which probably represents the footings for an earlier bridge."
The 18th Century sewer unearthed in 2008

County Archaeologist Bob Croft, has further written to Sedgemoor "In addition to the statutory heritage interests, this is an Area of High Archaeological Potential and the line of the medieval waterfront adjacent to the scheduled Water Gate to the castle may survive below the road line.  Works in Castle Street in 2008 discovered the edge of the medieval foundations and an 18th century drain that ran down Castle Street towards the river. This drain may have been a contributory factor to the water discharging into the ground adjacent to the Quay. "

So far the Agencies have not agreed on what may have caused the wall to break away but the key factors were extensive rainfall on the landward side leading to heavy flooding and the sewers reaching overcapacity.  In 2008 works to the historic sewers by Wessex Water included an award winning innovation by Leanne Ford which reduced the 5' high sewers down into a 2' square funnel diversion at the bottom of Castle street in order to preserve the unearthed castle ruins, approximately where the wall broke last week. 

Sunday, 6 November 2011


Latest news from the Sedgemoor District Council control centre concerning the incident at West Quay whereby a section of the Quayside collapsed.

Council Leader Duncan McGinty said "The river wall has moved 7mm overnight and the experts feel that it is only a matter of time before it collapses.The Utility companies are onsite and continue to work towards securing utilities in that area by laying pipes and cables around the damaged area. So today there is a wider area of disruption whilst large holes are dug to cut and divert. Wessex water are concerned that no salt water should enter the system as this would have a catastrophic effect on the sewerage treatment process."

"The area around the collapse continues to be unstable and people have not been allowed back into the properties to collect anything. The only exception is the Vets have been allowed back in to remove some animals and feed others."
The area along West Quay continues to be blocked off and will continue so for the foreseeable future. Cllr Brian Smedley and Cllr Kathy Pearce (Westover ward) have called on Sedgemoor for an emergency item at Wednesdays full council meeting to address the consequences for local residents and businesses..
Cllr Smedley said "Local traders will presumably get some relief from their business rates but regarding compansation I would suggest the businesses need to check the terms of their insurances to see if any claims can be made. It may be that  the Environment Agency has the key liability as the responsible authority and we are urging Sedgemoor to clarify the situation and to continue their excellent work to date with affected residents and businesses to mitigate the effects of this disaster. "
Cllr McGinty said "Tomorrow the SDC team will be working to find more permanent solutions for the affected tenants - so please bare with the us as this will mean some reassignment of Officers from their normal duties."
The M5 Motorway remains closed following the catastrophic incident there on friday night between Bridgwater and Taunton. The Highways Agency hopes to have the southbound carriageway on the M5 around Junction 25 open by 17:00 GMT. Police anticipated the M5 would be open both ways to traffic between junctions 24 and 25 on Monday morning.
Cllr Smedley said "The carnival committee called for a one minute silence at 12.00 today to remember those killed and injured on Friday night at the height of the Carnival. Carnival supporters and members of the public responded wonderfully and filled the area around the Guy Fawkes statue, all around Cornhill and along the High street."

Saturday, 5 November 2011


The Wall due to collapse (Photo Jana Branecka)
Sedgemoor District Council operated a Rest Centre at Bridgwater Arts Centre, Castle Street overnight (Friday, November 4) for residents evacuated from West Quay and nearby dwellings DUE to the collapse of part of the riverside road. Approximately 30 residents initially used the Rest Centre, the majority went to stay overnight with friends and family; four remained at the Rest Centre overnight. The Rest Centre has now relocated to the Sedgemoor Room at Bridgwater House. SDC would like to thank the Arts Centre for their help with this incident.
Water drainage staff are assisting the responsible organisation, Environment Agency, with advice. It is hoped that the dwellings will be unaffected, declared safe and that people will be able to return home sometime today .Sedgemoor District Council’s reception in Bridgwater House at King Square will be open, to give information and advice.
A spokesman said "The Environment Agency has inspected the wall and it looks clear that a 20-30m section will collapse. This may take some days. The consequences will then be assessed as a result. The good news is that work is now almost complete to secure services and utilities running under the road. This means that electricity, water, sewerage and gas systems will still work for the majority of the rest of the town should the wall and road collapse. The challenges are that 19 families have been moved from their homes and will only be allowed back over the next day or two in order to collect their belongings."


The horrific incident on the M5 which saw all available Emergency units called out of Bridgwater at the height of the Carnival procession and led to the cancellation of the Squibbing means the motorway is likely to be closed until Sunday lunchtime. This is to enable Police to recover burned out vehicles, clear debris and carry out their investigations into what is now classed a crime scene.

A meeting of Gold Command has finished and as a result, North Petherton carnival has now also  been postponed.

There are still no confirmed figures for the number of fatalities but it is known that more than 50 people were injured in the incident. SCC has teams of people assisting where appropriate.

Leader of Council Duncan mcGinty said "This incident will now see local authorities take the lead. Sedgemoor District Council responded speedily and effectively on the night with support from various teams among SCC. The impending collapse will see further SCC involvement and the eventually repairs and restoration is likely to take weeks if not months."


Friday, 4 November 2011


  On the night of Bridgwater's famous Guy Fawkes Carnival a major civil emergency is unfolding on the town's ancient riverbank. A large section of the flood defences along the West Quay collapsed with the pressure of  built up water from drains  caused by torrential rains which caused  massive sudden flooding the force of which cracked the wall and pushed it into the river.

Emergency Services cordon off West Quay
(Photo Jana Branecka)

Cllr Brian Smedley, one of the Councillors for the affected Westover ward, was on the scene as events unfurled and described what happened. "The heavy rains were causing the drains in Castle street and surrounding areas to fill to capacity and the pressure build up searching for an exit simply pushed a 20 foot section of the tidal wall along west quay into suspension above the river. I was called to the waterfront by worried shopkeepers and residents at approximately 4.15 and saw a further part of the road next to the watergate hotel subside and then collapse".

Wall collapse as West Quay falls into the river
(Photo Jana Branecka)

Westover resident Steve Coram saw the original wall collapse "The flooding was a foot deep and you could hear the rush of the water under the shop in the drains and then the wall suddenly broke away."

The extent of the damage on West Quay-
seconds later the road section subsided
(Photo Jana Branecka)

The town, filled up with visitors for tonight's carnival, was suddenly the centre of a major civil emergency. Sedgemoor District Council Corporate directors Bob Brown and Doug Bamsey were on the scene as Police and the Fire Brigade  closed roads, including the town bridge. Bob Brown said "Sedgemoor has activated it's Civil Contingencies Unit under Malcolm Brooks and is dealing with the situation." 

Doug Bamsey confirmed that the collapsed wall meant "..a potential breach in the Flood defences"  but that "..emergency action was being taken and that the Art Centre had agreed to take in any displaced residents."

Civil Emergency on Carnival night
(photo Jana Branecka)
 Cllr Smedley said "The flood wall was only built in the early 80's and the section just appears to have peeled away and is currently suspended over the river between West Quay Records and the Watergate hotel. Theres clearly a continuing danger of  further encroachment at high tide and further potential collapse."

Tuesday, 1 November 2011


Sedgemoor Labour Group was the first of the Political parties to engage with the Tesco consultation process tonight as the Superstores consultants were invited to put their case to their meeting at Bridgwater House.

The Labour Group increased their share of the seats on Sedgemoor District Council at this years Local elections in the Bridgwater area after a strongly fought campaign against the closure of the Sedgemoor Splash and yet another supermarket coming to the town.  The Tesco development had been steamrollered through by Sedgemoor Council's Tory majority group - 4 of whose members in the town lost their seats.

Ian Thorn (Lib Dem candidate
turned PR guru)
 Tesco's newly employed consultants, former LibDem parliamentary candidate for Bridgwater (2001) turned PR man 'Ian Thorn' and Emma Heesom, who has only been with Tescos for 10 weeks yet is their Corporate Affairs manager, said that Tescos would regenerate the town centre and prevent 'leakage' of shoppers to other towns. They said that 66% of the people they had spoken to supported the proposal with only 31% against. However they admitted that the consultation thus far had shown that the public were massively unhappy with the loss of green space due to the sale of the Brewery field , the premature loss of the Splash swimming pool in order to facilitate the deal ,the potential damage to the town centre and the widespread belief that there was enough supermarkets in the town already.
Cllr Ian Tucker
"Calls for a public meeting"

Labour councillor for Dunwear Ian Tucker confronted them about the destructive effect of supermarkets in other town centres and cited Shepton Mallet and Yeovil . Ian said “Three years ago SDC were quick to level the splash and now it seems that the Splash area wasn't even required!” Asking the Consultants whether Tescos would agree to a public meeting he was told that they had “given 2 days to public consultation as agreed with SDC and that was enough.”

Group leader cllr Mick Lerry (Victoria) said Bridgwater's most recent experience with a supermarket promising regeneration was ASDA which had in fact led to decline and made no linkage. He felt Tescos could be a 'one stop shop' which we didn't want. He further stressed the need for a Local Labour force Agreement. Mick said “we need to engage with the next stage. We have to go with the section 106 agreement and the planning process to see how best we can affect this and we need to put the emphasis on SDC to see if in fact they really do support business in the town centre”.

Cllr Julian Taylor (Eastover) said that his concern was the leakage claims were not comparable examples and he had long ago proved that what was claimed to be leakage was in fact simple shopping elsewhere that wouldn't be done in Bridgwater. . Julian, who was concerned about the validity of the consultation process,said “ Tescos aim is clearly to increase it's market share at the expense of others and in this case that would be town centre traders. Job numbers brought in would be equal to jobs lost. Furthermore, Ian Thorn said that the council needed to carry out a retail impact assessment, so far the council has not agreed to this. “

Cllr Dave Loveridge (Eastover) said at County Council that he had been offered condolences by councillors from other areas of Somerset that Tesco had moved into and asked what lessons had been learnt from Stokes Croft in Bristol.

Cllr Reg Winslow (Fairfax) requested that Tesco produce artist impressions of the building from ground level and expressed concerns about the poor visual impact such a large building could have on what is a prime town centre site.

He also expressed concerns about proposed traffic calming measures in Northgate and suggested that the increased volume of traffic coupled with the calming measures could lead to problems of more traffic congestion in Bridgwater.

He enquired about opening hours, and was told they are going to be the same as adjacent stores although 24 hour opening was a possibility in the future.

"We're being Shafted"
Cllr Adrian Moore

Cllr Brian Smedley said as Westover ward member his concerns were for the nearby residents whose properties were perilously close to the site and asked what would be done to prevent light pollution and nuisance from 24 hour service vehicles in close proximity.

Cllr Adrian Moore (Hamp) , who chaired the meeting said he felt the town was "..being shafted" and that “... it was a done deal and it looked like we were going to end up with a Tescos no matter what !”
Cllr Leigh Redman (Dunwear) said “ We have to encourage local residents and traders to engage with the consultation. We have to stress the Local Labour Force Agreement, learn the lessons from the failings of the Asda development and continue to push the importance of High street regeneration.”